'Je Suis Paris' is PSG's slogan after attacks in home city
ABS-CBN Sports on Nov 25, 2015 10:27 AM
"Je suis Paris" will be the declaration from Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday with the French capital still reeling from the attacks that left 130 people dead.
PSG will wear that slogan on its shirts against Malmo on Wednesday in place of its regular sponsor as a sign of solidarity with the city after the Nov. 13 attacks.
In Sweden, meanwhile, the attention is on PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he returns to his hometown and the team where he made his mark domestically.
Group A has yielded few surprises so far. One of the group's two clear favorites, Real Madrid, has already qualified, while PSG can do so with a win against outsider Malmo.
A draw would be enough for PSG to qualify unless Shakhtar Donetsk beats Madrid in Wednesday's other game.
PSG'S INJURY WOES EASING
Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc is in a good position as his team travels to Sweden almost at full strength following an eighth consecutive win in the French league.
Midfielder Javier Pastore has resumed training after a bout of conjunctivitis and a leg problem while striker Angel Di Maria is expected to be ready for the trip to Malmo after recovering from a calf injury.
"Di Maria is an important left-footed player to us because he is fast. He's got the quality to deliver decisive passes and to score," said midfielder Thiago Motta. "He changed the way we play because he knows when to change rhythm. Before (we signed him) we lacked this type of players."
Among those doubtful are Marco Verratti — who is still recovering from an ankle injury — and Ezequiel Lavezzi (knee), while David Luiz is suspended.
Malmo's fans are torn as they prepare to receive Paris Saint-Germain. As much as they love their team, this time the opponents have a player they adore even more: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The PSG striker, who grew up in Malmo, will be playing his first competitive club-level match in the city since joining Ajax in 2001.
Knowing interest in his homecoming is huge, Ibrahimovic has booked an entire square in downtown Malmo where the game will be shown on a big screen for those weren't able to get tickets.
In a video greeting posted on Malmo's website, Ibrahimovic speaks fondly of his roots but insists there will be no split allegiances on his part: "Now I represent PSG, I will do everything I can to win for my PSG and to score goals."
Malmo's official fan club urged supporters on Twitter not to get carried away by Zlatan-mania: "You want to root for one of the opponent's players? Try the away section."
Real Madrid has more at stake than finishing Group A in first place when it visits Shakhtar Donetsk.
The 10-time European champion needs a convincing win to restore the faith of its disgruntled fans after a humiliating loss to Barcelona.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez publicly backed coach Rafa Benitez on Monday, two days after the 4-0 debacle to its fiercest rival.
With Madrid's supporters angry at the president, coach and team, the pressure is also on its well-paid players to respond.
Not one of Madrid's starting 11 from Saturday's "clasico" has escaped scathing criticism in Spain.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been targeted not only for his lackluster performance against Barcelona, as the Champions League's all-time leading scorer with 83 goals hasn't scored in Madrid's last three matches. The Portugal forward has found the net three times in his last eight games.
SHAKHTAR'S LAST CHANCE
While Shakhtar was never among the favorites to qualify from Group A, its lack of competitiveness has come as something of a surprise.
The campaign began with three opening defeats in which Shakhtar failed to score a single goal, before a 4-0 demolition of Malmo lifted the Ukrainian team into third place and restored some much needed self-belief.
Still in exile due to the conflict in its home city of Donetsk, Shakhtar will host Madrid in Lviv hoping to make up for 4-0 defeat in the reverse fixture.
That scoreline didn't tell the full story, argues Shakhtar goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, who says the game turned on his own mistake and a red card for midfielder Taras Stepanenko. Until those incidents, "we weren't any worse" than Real, Pyatov told Ukrainian TV this week.
Joe Wilson in Barcelona, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.